Counter-terrorism in Singapore

Counter-terrorism in Singapore

Counter-terrorism in Singapore is a series of measures implemented in Singapore to detect and prevent terrorism, and to minimise damage from such terrorist acts should they occur. These measures involve all levels of society, including defence, internal security, border and infrastructure security, civil defence, medical readiness, and psychological preparedness. Singapore also participates actively in international counterterrorism efforts. Singapore has not experienced terrorism since 1991.



See also: Timeline of Singaporean history

These are the events related to terrorism and counter-terrorism in Singapore. Also listed are major terrorist incidents in the world and in Southeast Asia that have influenced counter-terrorism policies in Singapore.


10 March - MacDonald House bombing by Indonesian saboteurs killed 3 people, during the konfrontasi period.








  • August - Singapore arrests another 21 members of Jemaah Islamiyah.
  • 12 October - Bali car bombing by Jemaah Islamiah kills 202 people in the Indonesian island.





Arrest of Jemaah Islamiah members

The main terrorist threat to Singapore is from Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which has links to al-Qaeda and Abu Sayyaf. Jemaah Islamiah is known to have carried the Bali bombing in 2002, which has killed 202 people, as well as the Jakarta bombing in 2004 outside the Australian embassy, killing 11 people.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, an informant revealed to the Singapore Internal Security Department regarding Muhammad Aslam Yar Ali Khan, a Singaporean of Pakistani descent, who was a member of a group partnered with Al-Qaeda. Muhammad Aslam Yar Ali Khan was placed under surveillance by Singapore Internal Security Department, after which he left for Pakistan on 4 October. This man was captured by Afghan Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan. His interrogation led investigators to more Jemaah Islamiah members in Singapore.

On 9 December 2001, 13 suspects were arrested. Soon after that, a video found in an abandoned house in Kabul, Afghanistan showed a narrator in Singapore describing how to attack Americans using explosives. Investigators found similar tapes at the residences of the arrested men. In all, 33 men were arrested in relation to this plot. [7]

In August 2002, another 21 members of Jemaah Islamiyah were arrested, demolishing JI's Singaporean cell. Arrests were also made in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. As of 11 November 2005, 36 alleged members of JI or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were being detained under the Internal Security Act.[1]

However, Singapore believes that Jemaah Islamiyah remains active in Southeast Asia and is recruiting new members.

On 25 August 2005, French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière singled out Singapore along with Tokyo and Sydney as potential terrorism targets of the Al-Qaeda. [8] The Ministry of Home Affairs later responded that it had not received any specific information on imminent terrorist threat against Singapore, but added that security measures have been taken to strengthen security at borders, key infrastructure and iconic buildings. [9]

Homeland security

The Singapore Police Force has in recent years enhanced security at various locations in the country.

On 15 August 2005, the newly established Police MRT Unit began operational patrols on the Mass Rapid Transit network to protect the public transportation system. Personnel from the Special Operations Command (SOC) and the Gurkha Contingent (GC) have also been deployed to complement other police officers on patrol. In addition, the Police Coast Guard (PCG) stepped up its effort to inspect ferries and other vessels in Singapore territorial waters.

On 26 October 2005, Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for Security and Defence S Jayakumar announced that Singapore was developing an early warning system, called the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning, to identify and assess new emerging threats to national security. The system, developed by the National Security Coordination Secretariat, will be put in place by mid-2007.[2]

Counter terrorist specialised units

At the forefront in the fight against terrorism are specialised military, law enforcement, and civil defence units, namely:

Additional power to military

In May 2007, the parliament passed an amendment to the SAF Act, giving additional powers to the Singapore Armed Forces. A selected group of about 2,000 SAF personnel will be trained to perform security operations in designated areas. These personnel, identified by a Military Security identification card, will be able to search, detain and use reasonable force against terror suspects.[3]

Exercise Northstar V

On 8 January 2006, a large scale emergency preparedness exercise was conducted. Codenamed Exercise Northstar V, it involved 22 agencies and 2,000 emergency personnel. An additional 3,400 commuters also participated in the exercise. The exercise involved a simulated terrorist bomb attack on four MRT stations and one bus interchange. There were 500 mock casualties suffering from "injuries" caused by the "explosions" as well as chemical agents. The exercise is the largest civil emergency exercise ever staged in the country.[4]


Exercise Northstar V is part of the counter-terrorism effort in Singapore, aiming to test the readiness, effectiveness and coordination of the relevant agencies in responding to civil emergency, in particular a large scale multi-location terrorist attack. The exercise also aimed to raise the psychological preparedness of the public in the event of a terrorist attack.

The exercise is prompted by the recent terrorist attacks on public transport in other countries, namely the 7 July 2005 London bombings and the Madrid train bombings on 11 March 2004, which raise security concerns in public infrastructure. Singapore was the target of the foiled plan by Jemaah Islamiyah to bomb embassies and other installations.

The scenario of the exercise is similar to the London bombings with near-simultaneous bomb blasts in the trains and a bus. Earlier, officers from the Singapore Police Force were sent to London to study the British responses to the bombings.

The public were pre-warned that the exercise would be held during a weekend in January 2006 and the participating agencies were given as many as six months to prepare. However, the exact date, time and locations of the exercise were not disclosed until 15 minutes before the drill commenced.

However, there were some public complaints of authorities' overzealous enforcement of rules. One recent example involved airport security officers detaining a family of four for using the word "bomb" in Singapore Changi Airport. The family later published an account of how they were detained wrongly online and it sparked a public controversy. See [10].

Conduct of the exercise

The exercise started at 6:25 am local time on 8 January 2006, a Sunday, and lasted about three hours. To avoid public panic, announcements were made at the affected train stations as well as on television and radio, just before the exercise began.

Mock explosive devices were detonated near-simultaneously in subway trains and station platforms at four MRT stations (Dhoby Ghaut, Toa Payoh, Raffles Place and Marina Bay) and in a double decker bus at Toa Payoh Bus Interchange. A chemical agent attack was then simulated at Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station at 6:45 am. An undetonated mock bomb was also placed at the Raffles Place MRT Station. About 3,400 commuters who were on board the subway trains were evacuated during the drill. Services at 13 MRT stations were temporarily disrupted and roads within the vicinity were also closed to traffic. Shuttle buses were used to ferry commuters affected by the exercise.

Thunderflashes, smoke generators, and fire simulators were used to simulate the explosion and 500 simulated casualties were deployed to test emergency rescuers at the scene. These mock casualties carried tags to provide paramedics information on the extent of their injuries and these includes injuries related to bomb blasts, such as open wounds and burns. There were also some with injuries related to chemical agents. Dummy mannequins were also used to simulate casualties. 7 hospitals and 2 polyclinics were also involved in the drill as they received the mock casualties. In two hospitals, Singapore General Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, healthcare workers donned decontamination suits as they prepared to treat victims of chemical agents suspected to be sarin gas.[5]

Officers from the London Metropolitan Police and the British Transport Police, including Chief Constable Ian Johnston, were present to observe the exercise and to provide feedback to the authorities.[6]

Social cohesion

Following the crackdown on the local Jemaah Islamiyah cell, then-Deputy-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong held dialogues with the leaders of the Muslim community. Details of the investigation were shared to explain that the arrests were not targeted at the Singapore Muslim community, or Islam. In schools and workplaces, inter-racial confidence circles were formed to promote inter-racial and inter-religious understanding between the different racial and religious communities, while Islamic scholars and counselors in Singapore participated in the rehabilitation of the detained JI members.

See also


  1. ^ "Islamic militant detained in Singapore under Internal Security Act - govt". AFX News Limited. 11 November 2005. 
  2. ^ "Singapore sets up new centre to enhance risk assessment capability". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  3. ^ Asha Popatlal (2007-05-21). "SAF given new powers to deal with changed security landscape". Channel NewsAsia. 
  4. ^ "Twenty-two agencies in Exercise Northstar V ready for action". Channel NewsAsia. 3 January 2006. 
  5. ^ Official news release: Multi-agency Civil Emergency Exercise - Singapore Civil Defence Force, 8 January 2006
  6. ^ Official news release: British Transport Police observe Exercise NorthStar V - Channel News Asia, 8 January 2006

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